Goodbye, Bella

Over the years I’ve shared my life with seven dogs and I’ve loved them all, but none has meant more to me than Bella. Today I had to let her go, and I’m remembering what an impact she has had on me.

She possessed a fiercely independent spirit that I connected with in a way I never have with any other creature, and that connection was so deep that it forced me to confront how we treat animals as mere product. I gave up eating meat in part because of the bond we have shared.

She was unique, she was beautiful, and she was loved. It hurts so much to let her go, but I’m so glad we shared each other’s lives. I like to think we were both better off for it.

bella-collage

 

Changes

“Look out you rock ‘n rollers … pretty soon now you’re gonna get older.”

One of the downsides of getting older that nobody tells you about is you live to see some of your cultural icons die.

My first hint of that came in eighth grade when John Lennon was murdered.  Even though the Beatles were before my time, their music was my soundtrack back then. John’s work in particular resonated with me, and his death came as a shock.

It’s weird losing these people I’ve never met whose creations have touched my life as deeply as only close friends have. Kurt Vonnegut, Carl Sagan, Frank Zappa, Jim Henson, George Carlin – when I heard of their deaths, I felt like I’d lost an old friend.

I feel a bit of that today with the news that David Bowie has died. His music has traveled with me all the way from the days of FM radio and LPs to these days of smartphones and streaming audio.

I never really connected with the various personas that Bowie adopted over the years, but I admired his ability to transform. Because another downside of getting older is we tend to forget we can still change.

We’re an odd hodgepodge of traits and beliefs we’ve tried on over the years and continue to wear even after they no longer fit us. Trying on something new seems dangerous compared to the safe comfort of lackluster familiarity.

That Bowie was able to change himself in front of us – multiple times – is almost as impressive as the body of work he created. Like all the icons I never knew who touched me all the same, I’m glad his time here intersected with mine.

My Son Can Dance

He certainly didn’t inherit this talent from my side of the gene pool, but my 16yr-old son Isaac is a pretty incredible dancer.

This weekend he performed in front of his high school classmates, most of whom had no idea of his gift for movement. Seeing and hearing them react to his moves was a great experience, and the standing ovation he received at the end was well-deserved.

Nice one, Isaac – I’m proud of you not just for your skills, but also for having the courage to get on stage alone and do what you love.

I Wear a Hearing Aid

Ten years ago I underwent surgery for an acoustic neuroma that resulted in the total loss of hearing on my left side.

At the time I didn’t think losing hearing in one ear would be a big deal – after all, I had another ear which worked just fine – but I quickly discovered otherwise. Unilateral hearing loss makes it very hard to hear anything over background noise, and sound on the same side as the deaf ear doesn’t always reach the good one.

Trying to hear people in a group situation became very stressful. I’d have to aim my good ear at the person talking which made me look pretty awkward, and I often got nasty looks from people because I’d talk over them without realizing they were already talking.

So I started avoiding group situations. I stopped going to conferences and stayed away from large get-togethers. If I really needed to be somewhere with a group, I’d make sure to arrive early so I could position myself on the left.

That’s the background story.

Today I got a CROS hearing aid, which transmits sound from my left side over to my right ear. It’s far from a perfect solution in that background noise will still be an issue, but it does enable me to hear those talking on my left side. After a decade of turning to hear people on my left it’s pretty amazing not to have to do that.

Tech as the Teen Common Ground

I was born in England in 1967. Two years later my family moved to the USA. Since then, many of my relatives have scattered across the globe.

When a cousin visits me in the USA – which happens maybe once every five years – we seek some common ground, and invariably it turns out to be music or some other form of entertainment. We start talking about the music and movies we like, and from there we find other things to talk about.

By when their kids interact with my kids, the common ground is tech.

My cousin from Germany visited us last week, and we wondered if our sons – who had never met – would have much to talk about. But it turned out they’re both avid users of Instagram and Snapchat, and they both run Minecraft servers and have YouTube channels where they talk about their gaming addiction.

Their common ground in tech was the starting point for their relationship, and that relationship continues even after we said our goodbyes thanks to the tech they use to communicate.

Why I Left Indie Development

indiana-jones

In what feels like a different life now, I used to be a fairly well-known indie developer. I spoke at events like SXSW, and my blog had a large audience of people who liked hearing about my work on HomeSite, TopStyle and FeedDemon.

I parted ways with that life several years ago, in part because it’s extremely difficult to be a one-man show and still have time to be a husband and father. I was also burned out from years of doing my own support. I had lovely customers, of course, but I spent so much time supporting them that I wasn’t able to spend as much time feeding my code addiction. Almost everything I do professionally is so I can enjoy the bliss of getting lost in writing software.

But I also gave up pursuing the indie life because I wanted to make the switch to mobile development, and I didn’t see much future for indie mobile developers. The economics of the various app stores coupled with the plethora of free software didn’t paint a rosy picture for one-person companies building consumer apps. In fact, I didn’t make the leap to mobile until I was offered a full-time job as an Android dev.

So it’s been interesting reading the latest round of blog posts about the state of indie mobile development. While there are success stories, there certainly aren’t many of them. Making a decent living as an indie developer writing mobile apps is ridiculously hard – and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon.

A lot of mobile developers have left the indie ship and done as I have and joined a larger company, many of which look at mobile apps as a free (or nearly free) complement to their other offerings.1 There’s plenty of opportunity here for mobile developers, and I think that opportunity will continue to grow for a while.


  1. As an aside, I’m not convinced the “mobile as a complement” strategy is the right one long term. Mobile is becoming the primary way people access their information, to the point that web and desktop software are turning into the complement.

Goodbye Blue Sky

goodbye-blue-sky
My parents grew up in England during World War II. They used to tell me about the air raid sirens that sounded at night alerting them to seek shelter, quickly.

I often asked them about this, thinking they must still be haunted by the thought of bombs dropping on them as they slept.

But they said it was normal to them. It was all they ever knew.

That has always stuck with me.

It makes me wonder how many things we accept simply because we’ve never known any different.

My Trusty FeedDemon Bag

feeddemon-bagYears ago, when FeedDemon was thriving, I had a canvas FeedDemon bag created for me by CafePress.

I figured it was a novelty, like having a t-shirt made from a picture of your kids when they’re young that you stop wearing once they outgrow the diaper stage.

But instead this bag has remained my trusty companion and shows no signs of getting old. It has outlived FeedDemon itself.

I’ve taken it everywhere, but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about it. Probably for good reason: who wants to ask an obvious geek about their bag when it has a demonic logo on it?

It has been on every vacation with me, carrying sunscreen, towels, and books to the beach. I’ve taken it on business trips to hold my electronics. It has come with me to the grocery store to carry home ice cream, veggies, and beer. Now it goes to the gym with me to hold my headphones, towel, water, and post-workout snack.

It has survived storms, car wrecks, and even plane crashes. This is the Samuel L. Jackson of bags, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasts longer than I do.

 

 

The Atheist Pulpit

After my wife and I moved to a new town a few years ago, we talked about joining a church in order to meet people. This wasn’t easy for us since I’m a devout atheist, and I refused to take my kids anywhere that even mentioned the idea of hell.

At some point we tried out a nearby Unitarian Universalist church, and much to my surprise we both enjoyed the experience. My being an atheist wasn’t an issue – in fact, there were several other atheists in the congregation, all of whom wanted to be a part of something bigger that could do some good for society without all the dogma.

Not long after we joined, I was asked to speak to the congregation about what I believe. Here’s most of what I said:

If 20 years ago you had told me I would speak in front of a church crowd, I would’ve laughed hysterically. I decided I was an atheist at a very young age, so the idea of me standing at a pulpit would’ve seemed ridiculous, at least until I discovered churches like this one existed.

I guess you could say that by age 16 I had a pretty bad attitude about religion. For many years that bad attitude only got worse as I continued to witness people justifying cruelty in the name of religion.

That bad attitude reached its peak after I saw all the “God Bless America” billboards go up prior to the war with Iraq. At the time I took that as proof religion was nothing more than something politicians all over the world rely on to get people to approve of the awful things they want to do.

Yes, I was one of those smirking atheists who think they’ve got it all figured out.

But I’ve mellowed a lot since then. I’ve become friends with too many good people of faith to continue being a smirking atheist.

I used to believe that religious people were wrong, but now I believe that everyone is wrong – including me. We’re just monkeys with expensive haircuts. How on earth can we presume to have anything figured out?

I mean, look at all the mistakes we’ve made – we once believed that the world was flat, that the earth is the center of the universe, and that George Bush would never be a two-term president. Look how wrong we were!

Perhaps some of us have seen a clue of what the truth really is. People like Jesus, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and George Carlin may have caught a glimpse behind the curtain and seen further than the rest of us.

But they’re probably wrong, too, and it really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that regardless of what gods we may or may not worship, I believe we’re all here for a very short time, so it’s not a bad idea for us to focus on enjoying ourselves and each other while we can.

And I believe it shouldn’t be as hard as it is to improve the lives of every person and every animal we share this temporary planet with.

I think we have to separate between what we believe and what we know. Atheism is what I believe, some of you believe in a religion. We believe we’re following something that gives us some answers or some comfort, but none of us actually know how we got here and where we’re going, and that’s great.

It’s only when people convince themselves that what they believe is also what they know that the bad stuff happens.

So anyway, this godless journey of mine somehow led me to this church. I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t expect to like it here. I’ve wanted to run away screaming from every other church I’ve visited.

But much to my surprise, I like it here. I enjoy being part of this group of intellectual misfits. This church is like a non-conformist convention where people actually show up.

So I want to thank you for welcoming me and accepting me here – that’s something I’m not used to, and it means a lot to me.